Canadians make 18-million visits to restaurants daily. It’s no surprise given that consumers juggle family responsibilities, career and social obligations, which is leading to a decline in home cooking. Still, that doesn’t mean the public’s nutrition has to suffer.
While convenience sometimes dictates where a family chooses to eat, it doesn’t dictate the food’s nutritional value. Canadians want healthy choices. The good news is Health Check, The Heart and Stroke Foundation’s nutrition information program, has been helping restaurateurs meet Canadians’ hunger for nutritious meals since 2006.
Why make it healthy?
It’s undeniable, consumers are increasingly savvy about nutrition, and the foodservice industry is taking notice. In fact, nutrition/health was one of the top 10 trends listed in the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association’s 2012 Chef’s Survey.
Perhaps this explains why many participating Health Check restaurants are highlighting more nutrition-packed food on the menu. For example, at Pizzaville, based in Woodbridge, Ont., Health Check criteria is a measuring stick against which new products are developed, with each new offering running through a nutrition filter before being implemented. Taking that one step further, Health Check now requires its participating restaurants to make nutrition information available. “It’s given them a lot more information to base their questions on,” says Alan Serrecchia, Pizzaville’s director of Franchising, referencing his customers.
Casey’s Grill Bar has been inspired by the healthier options, too. Since 2010, Casey’s has been working with Health Check dietitians to give today’s food-savvy, health-conscious customers what they crave. “Our primary goal is to provide our guests with delicious menu options that fit their lifestyle requirements when dining out without sacrificing taste or quality,” says Grant Cobb, SVP, Brand Management of Prime Restaurants Inc., Casey’s parent company. “So, whether our guests are looking for a heart-healthy or gluten-free menu option, we have something that will please all family members.”
Implementing the Health Check program was a natural step at Casey’s. “It’s exciting to continually provide menus that get our guests excited about dining out — without having to worry whether the menu has something for them.”
The skinny on the criteria
But, the Health Check stamp of approval doesn’t come easily. Before a menu item can display the Health Check logo, it must meet strict nutrient criteria, developed by the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s registered dietitians, and based on the recommendations in Canada’s Food Guide.
The criteria include nutrients Canadians need (such as fibre, protein and vitamins) as well as those they should limit (such as fat and sodium) and it considers recommended serving sizes. The menu items are then classified as soups, side salads, appetizers, small entrées, large entrées, pizza or children’s entrées. Their nutrition profile is judged accordingly. In addition, menu items designated as meals must include foods from at least two of the four food groups highlighted in Canada’s Food Guide. And, Health Check helps restaurants meet the strict nutrient criteria. In the end, restaurants develop healthy, tasty and exciting dishes to offer savvy customers.
What’s the recipe for the Check?
Since Toronto-based Pizza Pizza opened its oven door to Health Check, it has been making changes to its extensive menu, including reducing the sodium in its offerings. “The team had to work very hard,” says Pat Finelli, Pizza Pizza’s chief marketing officer. “We’re always leading the market with product innovation, and this is another one of those key segments for us.”
After four years of planning, Pizza Pizza joined the program in 2011. It now offers six Health Check meals, including its latest addition, penne bolognese. Its pizza is also available on whole-grain crusts, which further strengthens the chain’s nutritional profile.
Pizzaville met with similar developmental challenges. According to Serrecchia, the road to implementing Health Check menu items was fraught with problems and required testing and re-testing to create a healthy, tasty product.
Pizzaville’s director of Franchising explains that pizza has its own set of challenges, since the thickness of the crust and the amount of cheese determine whether customers like the pie. But, he’s found that when using quality ingredients, less can be more and less crust can mean more taste. Pizzaville is looking to develop additional healthy items with Health Check dietitians.
Giving Canadians the taste and nutrition they crave isn’t always easy. Yet, with the creativity in restaurant kitchens, and the support of the Health Check team, healthy meals can be as delicious as they are nutritious.
Canadians want healthy choices in restaurants, and, if current trends are any indication of what’s to come, they will continue to eat out at restaurants more frequently. These two trends provide Canadian restaurants with an exciting challenge.
Samara Foisy, program manager, Health Check Ontario Dining Program, Heart and Stroke Foundation, is a registered dietitian. For more information about Health Check, its existing restaurants, nutrient criteria and how to join, visit healthcheck.org.